Saturday, March 25, 2006

The MBA Hitchhiker's Guide

    The following post comes with an inherently flawed assumption - that I have received my PGDBM degree which is still subjected to the vagaries of nature and the powers at my institute. It is an attempt to demystify some of the myths surrounding MBA education and a guideline to survive a two year journey during which one not only undergoes an emotional turmoil, financial backlash but also a personal renunciation of joys like watching cricket 24/7.

    I must confess that one of the most important reasons I wanted to do an MBA was to have the security of a solid six-figure salary in the shortest possible time. It was in Standard VII when I read an India Today cover story profiling some of India’s hottest professional profiles. All of them were MBA’s from India’s top institutes. I read about this chap called Rajeev Balakrishnan whose salary at the age of 24 read an eye-popping six-figure sum. I was damn impressed by our man’s grey suit and I told myself- “Gotta be like that , Issac, gotta be like that”. I don’t have that issue with me today but yeah the color of the suit was grey. I have a tremendous memory for irrelevant details. That was in 1995.

    Today in 2006, I have a black suit and I am going to pen the following words with the limited wisdom of a guy who has had the pleasure and the pain to go through two years of MBA education at one of India’s top institutes. The following 9 points are some of my most treasured gems of learning I have picked up from my experiences of the last two years. They should be applicable to any wannabe MBA or anyone who is still going through the pleasure such an education bestows. Some of them have been acquired through personal application, some through observation and some have been passed on to me by some of my gurus at SPJIMR.

    1.Play the game of Last Impression and not First Impression: In MBA, the rule of first impression being the best impression never applies. Do not ever attempt to make a point at the beginning of a class if there are CP marks. Make your point when the class is slow, drab and fatally boring. This is usually towards the end of the class. People who speak early lose their recall in the eyes of the professor. There will be a time mid-way when every CP desperate guy will attempt to make a point. During these times you should simply watch the fun from the sidelines. Do not attempt to break the clutter for you will be lost and loathed by those desperate around you. Go for your kill only in times of recession.

    2.Find the goldmine but don’t dig it yourself: In times of exams and tests go to the specialist of a subject for advice. Every batch has an Eco, Quant, FM and Operations specialist. If you are the kinds who never bothered to attend classes or thought of Brearley-Myers as the updated version of Duckworth-Lewis go to that expert for that particular subject. Spend time in his company. Take tips from him including the syllabus for the test. These guys are better than textbooks. Often they might also tell you the exact question that’s coming for they spend a lot of time in the professor’s cabin.

    3.Keep your ego at Absolute Zero- Feel at ease to be thought of as stupid or crazy. Your batchmate or even your professors are hugely unlikely to be your employer. So if you have a doubt, ask but in private. Never take the liberty to make yourself stupid in front of 50 others. That’s dangerous. Always approach the person one-on-one if you have a doubt and preferably don’t approach a professor. I learnt on an average atleast 60% more from my peers than from my professors. How I arrived at that figure is a mystery- even to me.

    4.Keep your options open; all the time - This I learnt from my stint as a Placement Committee member in Second Year. There is a beauty in not committing to anyone, learn to admire it and exercise it. In terms of electives, minors, careers and dates always keep your options open till as long as you can. I never killed my alternatives even when I was always sure what I was going to do. This is an off-shoot of the best answer in any MBA class.
    Professor: So should D/E equity ratio be low or high?
    Dumb Guy 1 : High because blah blah blah..
    Dumb Guy 2 : Low because blah blah blah…
    Smart Guy: It depends Sir..

    5.Be flexible to learn : In the last two years, I have developed a huge interest in Theater, Movies, Writing and Photography. This is only because I was willing to listen and spend time with experts from my batch in each of these fields with an eagerness of a beaver and the curiosity of a 3 year old. I realized later that whenever I told myself “That’s not for me...” I have lost out on something. Some of the things I learnt from my batchmates range from fields of Oil Painting, Yoga and Astronomy to Animation using 3-D Max. There’s no limit really.

    6.Play to Peer Pressure most of the times: I had been told in school to carve my own individuality and not be guided by peer pressure. Conversely, in a B-School, I believe Peer Pressure is an element that one should exploit wisely. So if in a Costing Viva there are 110 before you who have told you that they have said that Cost Control is better than Cost Cutting and you have reason to believe them and you are the 111th, do not , I repeat do not take a chance and play the hero to say the converse. Follow the crowd for something called Relative Grading will plunge you to depths you would have never imagined existed. I used to do a quick poll before any individual assignment submission to gauge how many are actually submitting on time and if a substantial part weren’t going to, I put on my earphones back on for that Quentin Tarantino flick, I’d left mid-way.

    7.Don’t take anything at face value: This I picked up from a Harsha Bhogle videotape in our library. If something is coming your way and it seems too easy, question its validity. So even if you are mid-way understanding a concept from the batch topper and you are grasping it easily, question him in between. If you thought you calculated the Black-Scholes with real ease in the examination don’t sit back and relax but speak to a few people around you .Chances are you screwed up big-time and that means managing better impression in the eyes of the professor from next class. (Refer Rule 1). I once thought I had a real easy Costing paper and came out half an hour before the allotted time only to realize later I missed out on the last Question that was listed on the second page of the question paper.

    8.Speak it out in the hostel rooms: If there is something that you vehemently disagreed with in class, don’t let it play in your mind but speak it out in the mess, the gymnasium, the nearby bar or in your hostel room. I can never under-estimate the wisdom I gained from thrashing things out with my pals outside the classroom. We never reached a consensus and that’s exactly I value those heated discussions right up there in my takeaways from SPJIMR.

    9.I am not like everybody else: I said play to peer pressure most of the times but when things were going to have a greater impact on me and these related to career choices, I was happy to let go of the crowd and tell myself that I wasn’t like everybody else. Placements are the craziest time in a B-School because the stakes are really high and you would see people around you apply helter-skelter to companies and you would be tempted to do so too. Know yourself well and when you feel like taking that step that 30 others are taking around you and you don’t have a reason as to why “ Me too?” pause a second and tell yourself “ You have a right to be different from others”. If that doesn’t still soothe your nerves go right ahead and as I said previously exploit the power of peer pressure. It never let me down. On an average people would apply across 4 different sectors and 12 companies for Final Placements. I applied to 2 sectors and 6 companies. 2 of the companies did not even shortlist me. I came out more than fine in the other 4.

    “Truth be told,” Harsha Bhogle says “Management is fantastic general education”.

    If you don’t try too hard, just let it be and have a smile on your face most of the times you will do great!

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The MBA Hitchhiker's Guide

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

A Shot at Time

    19th March, 2006

    It was a typical Second Year BH afternoon. Match on TV on 4th floor and a few guys were glued to the screen eating the best Vrindavan had to offer. A few others ought to have been roaming in Infiniti Mall around the same time and a few others must’ve been trekking their favorite hill in some God forsaken place on the outskirts of Mumbai. I deliberately choose to exclude the valiant eight who had courageously started music classes for they acted like misguided missiles for most of their initial classes for they were never sure which instrument to pick up for a start.

    I belonged to the group on the 4th floor and food had just arrived.
    “ I hope we have’nt ordered much” – Martin’ s typical concern
    “ Nahi bey.. khatam kar lenge”- Gan’s typical reassurance
    “ He has given some extra spoons” – Amitesh typically ogling at what’s extra and can be packed off to his room.
    “ Oye .. koi nahi yaar .. rakh le .. aage kaam aayega”- Anurag Agarwal’s typical shooting off the hip.


    Anurag Agarwal hesitatingly … “ Par .. aage kab kaam aayega” ?

    Our time at SPJIMR was gone.

    It was the last lunch the 6 of us would have together and it had just struck us then. Everyone paused for a couple of seconds and at the same time Dravid pulled off a blinder at first slip and the conversation veered to how Ganguly was still a better captain than Dravid. Funny, sometimes how conversation changes gears more effortlessly than an SL 500.

    Nevertheless, I was going through some early photographs of our lives here in 2004 and that’s when I got the idea of this post. (I was thinking about writing an SP swansong anyway. It just hastened the idea.) Photographs form a great way to treasure memories and I do this little exercise every time I look at one. I ask myself “What was I exactly doing then?” or “What I was thinking?” or “What did I do right after this photograph was taken?” I deliberately don’t do it every time because it’s amazing that when you start thinking about the context around which that photograph was taken you are drifted back in time. You start thinking “then and there” and in some ways you trigger off a time machine in your head and get a shot at playing around with something that always seems to play around with you.

    There’s this wonderful quote about Time I read recently. It said- “Time is the best author of all times; it always has the perfect ending”. This brings me to the central point of this post and that is how our 2 years at SP were always challenged by time. Deadline for submissions, Deadline for GH (yes it did affect some of us at the BH), Last date for registration, Time limit for presentations et al.

    Time seemed to have us in captivity for ever and we swung along with time. We swung wild and wise, smooth and hard, long and slow. Until 17th March, 2006 happened and suddenly, we found we were not being swung anymore by time. No need to rise up at 8:25 for that 8:30 test, no need to copy at the last minute from the Dataserver for the submission time that’s already past an hour and no need to bang on the bathroom door of the neighbor who has decided to use his time in the bathroom to clean an extra undergarment during his bath.

    Every time I have slept during an afternoon in SP, I have had only two kinds of emotions when I woke up, either of dread or excitement.
    Dread, if there were an assignment, presentation, test or exam the next day.
    Excitement if there was a “Party”, AKB, Farewell, Spandan or Gasp meeting pending. When I woke up on the afternoon of 17th March, I had neither of these emotions and it didn’t quite feel right.
    We still went for our evening stroll that always had the intrusion of a spicy Vada Pav on the way and we didn’t have an urgency to come back to the hostel. We were quite happy about not coming back in a hurry but I guess somewhere deep within we dint quite relish this feeling. There was no challenge of Time facing us.

    Sachin might still bring about his sparkling century in Adelaide in a second innings where India is chasing 318 on the 5th day and India might win that game in 2007 but then his time would have gone by then. It pretty much has by now.
    When Ivanesivic finally won his Wimbledon, he wasn’t crowned as the greatest player to have won it so late but as someone who’s had a dream fairytale end to his career. George Foreman inspite of having won a title at the age of 40 is remembered more for his brushes with Mohammed Ali in the seventies. Citizen Kane might still be given a Best Picture Oscar tomorrow but it will seem a mere consolation.

    Hence I have begun to suspect that all accomplishments have a context of time and so do personal challenges. No one gives a dime if you become India’s best actor by 55, you earn that title by 35 and whole of India will stand up and applaud. It probably explains why Naseeruddin Shah never got his due recognition from the man on the street. I can watch a movie in peace at home nowadays but watching a movie within 120 minutes with an exam the next day was what gave an extra kick. When one’s accomplishments are crunched with the context of time not only is peer recognition supreme but so is personal satisfaction.

    My belief is that if you want yourself to be the best you can be you should challenge yourself against time all the time. Having a time block is a sure means of giving in your concerted best within that time span. I can imagine that such a generalization would not hold true for all professions but I sure can say that limitless pondering over that piece of painting, that classic masterpiece of an ending and those nervous nineties hasn’t done anyone good.

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A Shot at Time

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